DASHING DDF TEAM

Skagway DDF team members ham it up at the State meet in Anchorage. Front row are Tyler Forester and Shelby Surdyk, and in the back, from left, are Brandy Mayo, Erica Harris, Sierra Moran, and stylin’ Cody Burnham. See story about Skagway's winning performance in features below.

Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

The bucks stop here
Skagway plans for influx of revenues from state’s passenger tax

By JEFF BRADY
Although Skagway was one of the few communities in the state where voters did not support the cruise ship passenger tax in the August 2006 statewide referendum, this municipality may end up as one of the biggest benefactors.
Most of the $50 tax per passenger tax that began last summer will go into the state’s general fund. However, $4 is reserved for the ocean ranger program on the ships, and $5 will be split between the first five ports visited by the passenger, unless a community has its own head tax. Unlike Juneau and Ketchikan, Skagway does not impose its own municipal head tax, so the borough is in line to receive money from every cruise traveler that comes here.
Early projections are that Skagway could receive about $4 million a year from the tax.
At the March 6 meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly, Borough Manager Alan Sorum recommended that the municipality begin a planning process for dealing with the money:
1) Have Borough Attorney Bob Blasco work with borough formation consultant James Van Altvorst on a study that will investigate both maritime law and delineate what municipal expenses can be directly tied to the cruise ship industry. Then they can answer the question, “Can you draw a string to the cruise ship passenger?” Sorum said. “The longer the string, the harder it is to justify.”
2) Develop a methodology to determine what the municipality spends per cruise passenger out of both sales tax funds and the general fund. Then take that percentage and cover it with the money coming from the state each year. “This will help cover the cost of increased wages and free up funds for some of our major capital projects that can’t be tied to the industry,” Sorum stated.
3) Based on guidance from the above, then develop a list of cruise-related capital projects funded by the new tax.
Sorum said the study aspects would cost less than $7,000 and the borough would end up with a guidance document that leaders could point to when defending their choices.
Skagway is taking its own track, while the Alaska Legislature deals with bills, other municipalities, and the cruise ship lobby on possible changes to the tax structure.
Sorum said it should not be the state’s responsibility to provide “guidance for the funds. It is our responsibility to spend it correctly.”
Mayor Tom Cochran and assembly members liked the approach, seeing a possibility that the funds could provide relief for the operating budget.
The only person who spoke against the municipality going forward with the planning was Mavis Irene Henricksen, who has been lobbying on her own behalf to have the cruise ship money dedicated to a Southeast Intertie that could allow all ships to plug in at ports, including Skagway, and reduce air pollution.
“Hemlocks are dying at the 1800 foot level,” she said. “...and bugs don’t kill hemlocks.”
She said the ships create two inversion layers, and smoke from the two ships tied up at the Railroad Dock goes straight up to where the hemlocks are dying.
While acknowledging that the proposed intertie is expensive, more than $1 million a mile, it would provide both a boost to the economy of the region and cut down on emissions in every port.
“Find a way to use the money in a way that the cruise ships will not fight,” she said.
Cochran and others at the table said they supported Henricksen’s idea, but said saving money for the intertie would be a better use of what is being called the “regional fund” of money from the tax that is not being used by the ports.
As it stands, Skagway will be getting about $4 million of the $50 million the state takes in. Cochran said Skagways’ share would buy only four miles of a power grid that could take years to build, and it would be “better to pass it on to the tax payers.”
Assembly member Mark Schaefer agreed with Sorum’s proposal.
“It’s rational. You don’t know how long (the tax money) will last,” he said, reiterating that the anticipated revenues are “not the ship’s money, it’s taxing the passengers.”

Land lottery switcheroo
Two Dyea lots off, one added after leach field questions raised

By ANDREW CREMATA

One of the premier lots for the April 15 Dyea Land Lottery has been rendered unavailable for purchase. The lot was removed by the Skagway Borough Assembly due to questions concerning how far a septic leach field from an adjacent lot owned by Fred and Kathy Hosford extends into the sale lot.
Some members of the community voiced concern over the removal of the lot from the land lottery, one of the most desirable for new construction, due to the amount of flat land suitable for building. A new lot with similar construction attributes, has been added to the land lottery, and the municipality hopes to resolve the issue concerning the removed lot before the next phase of land sales.
The issue started when sale lots were surveyed and it was noticed a gazebo on the Hosford’s property extended a few inches into Lot 26. It was hoped the problem could be mitigated by dividing lot 26 into two sections, A and B. Lot 26-B, a ten-foot-wide strip of land creating a easement for the Hosfordís building, would then be offered to the Hosfords for purchase to resolve the problem. Lot 26-A would still be available for the land lottery sale.
At the March 4 Civic Affairs meeting, the Hosfords said they were interested in obtaining first right of refusal for both sections of Lot 26. They also pointed out that they were unaware how far a septic leach field extended into Lot 26, and it could possibly reach well into section A of the lot.
Kathy Hosford said when they built on the lot, they thought their property line gave them ample room, and it wasn’t until the results of the survey were competed that they became aware of the problem. She added they had done considerable clearing work to the property over the years, believing it was theirs, and was hopeful first right of refusal was an option.
“We have been a good friend and good neighbor to the development of Dyea,” she said.
Assembly member Dave Hunz outlined three options to resolve the problem. One would be to send a letter asking the Hosfords to move off the property, another would require a re-plat of the lot to meet setback requirements and include the areas they cleared as well as the leach field. The third would be an outright sale of the property for its appraised value plus a “percentage,” in essence a first right of refusal.
Assembly member Colette Hisman called it an “unfortunate situation” due to the fact the Hosforís thought they were doing the right thing, but “We have to be fair to everybody.”
Mayor Tom Cochran said he did not want to send a message that one could build on borough land and then buy the land when it came up for sale.
Hisman said it was important for people to know the municipality was not “playing favorites.”
L.C. Cassidy, Civic Affirs chair, said there was already feedback that citizens perceived the municipality might be showing favoritism to the Hosfords over the issue.
Cochran said the perception was unfortunate as the Hosfords obviously believed the property was theirs.
Kathy Hosford stressed she wanted to pay the fair market value for the property, and said she and her husband had done much for Dyea, including hosting the telephone utility for the area on their property.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the most important piece of information in determining a course of action would be to assess the exact location of the leach field.
Kathy Hosford said the information concerning the location of the leach field should be on file with Hunz and Hunz Enterprises, as they were the ones who did the work.
Cochran asked Hosford what her preference would be if it were determined the leach field did not extend very far into Lot 26. She said she would still like to buy the entire lot to provide a “buffer from immediate neighbors,” as having a commercial property directly next to a residential property was not a good idea. The Hosfords own the Chilkoot Trail Outpost, a bed and breakfast.
Hosford said she was not looking for special treatment but rather protecting their interests.
At the March 6 Borough Assembly meeting, no determination had been made concerning the exact location of the leach field. Cochran said it would be in the best interests of the municipality to pull Lots 26, A and B, from the land lottery until an accurate measurement could be taken.
In a letter to the mayor and assembly, Elizabeth Lavoie expressed concern over granting first right of refusal to the Hosfords. She wrote the intent of the land sale was to make affordable land available to residents, and granting the Hosfords first right of refusal seemed like a reward. The letter stated property owners were responsible for knowing their property lines and urged the assembly not to sacrifice “one of the few flat, buildable lots left in this Borough!”
Hunz said the removal of Lot 26 from the lottery would eliminate much of the interest in the sale as it was one of the “good ones.” He recommended adding Lot 25 to the sale as it was also a flat, buildable lot. Assembly members agreed, and the lot will be included in the upcoming land lottery. The assembly earlier this year had taken that Lot 25 off the sale so it could be used for borough services.
In the meantime, Hunz said the Hosfords should be required to pay for a survey to find out the location of the leach field as they were the ones who “overbuilt.”
At press time, Sorum said via telephone there was still no word from the Hosfords concerning the location of the leach field, and a letter would be drafted by the municipality formally requesting they provide the necessary information.

All agree Gold Rush Cemetery needs work
Proposed bus stop draws opposition from tour companies

By JEFF BRADY
While the Civic Affairs Committee was dealing with how to set up a SMART bus stop at the Gold Rush Cemetery, letters began coming into the municipality from tour companies objecting to the recent proposal to add a stop there.
At a committee meeting at the end of February, most of the discussion focused on where to put the stop, and how to make the cemetery accessible for those with disabilities.
Committee chair L.C. Cassidy, a part-time tour driver, said that “most of my people who have disability problems don’t get off the bus.” She suggested taking the steps out, having more benches and an area for wheelchairs, and an outhouse.
SMART owner Stuart Brown said the Americans with Disabilities Act only requires him to drop off people at a safe place. He said that before the dock approaches were paved, his ADA-equipped buses dropped wheel chairs off in gravel strips. But he said the cemetery should have some sort of ramp, with or without a bus stop.
Regarding where to locate a stop so that it doesn’t add to an already congested parking and turnaround area, Brown said a stop could be located at the beginning of the parking area. A discussion followed about making the parking area bigger, and researching whether it would encroach on the WP&YR right-of-way.
Committee members said the service was needed but they wanted to hear from more people on the issue, and deferred the matter to the full assembly for its March 20 meeting.
Brown’s proposal came in at the same time as a request from Klondike Gold Dredge and Jewell Gardens to add a stop across the river. He claims that taking a bus out there is only economical with a stop at the cemetery, calling it a “volume” issue. His farthest north stop currently is before the bridge, at the beginning of a dirt access road around the White Pass rail shops that leads about a half mile to the cemetery. Under the new proposal, the cemetery and garden-dredge service would be offered every half hour during the summer months.
At an earlier meeting, Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said that the visitor center gets numerous requests daily from people who want a ride from downtown versus walking three miles to the cemetery. They are given the option of contacting private tour companies, but most just want a ride from downtown, not a tour.
“It behooves us to let them get out there,” said assembly member Mike Korsmo.
But some tour companies are saying they already offer the cemetery service, and that not enough people are being directed to them.
In a letter to the municipality, Greg Clem, owner of Klondike Tours, said “I guess folks have a short memory; I have been offering a round trip to the cemetery for nine years.”
He added that the visitor centers have been sending him people every day but that he does not advertise the service due to the cost of advertising. He said this was outlined in a letter when the issue came up before.
At the March 6 assembly meeting, he further stated that he keeps one vehicle available at all times, and hauled more than 200 people to the cemetery last year, at $15 per van load.
In another letter, Frontier Excursions owners David and Jeanne Gonzalez said that after the issue came up in 2006, they called both the CVB and museum to let them know they would provide transportation to the cemetery, “and all that needed to occur was for them to call us.” They cited a communication problem, because that season, they received one call, and there was a similar lack of calls last summer. They concluded that the “issue had faded due to a lack of interest.”
They proposed that the SMART route go north of town, but not include the cemetery road because it opens a “dangerous precedent.... What’s next, the overlook, Dyea, the summit?.... The tour companies are willing and able to provide the needed services to the cemetery, given a chance.”
Another more lengthy letter from Skagway Street Car Co. owners Steve and Gayla Hites said adding a cemetery stop would result in a “material change” in the municipality’s contract with SMART by adding a route to a “public attraction” that is being driven by market demand and revenues.
“This is brand new revenue for the operator,” they wrote. It is not revenue that was envisioned by the City of Skagway when the original contract was put out to bid. The cemetery is different. It is not a shuttle from the waterfront to town, it is not a service to privately-owned businesses, and it is not for commuters.”
The proposal should be rejected, they concluded, unless the municipality is willing to put out a new Request for Proposals to completely rebid the shuttle system contract. The letter also noted that having a bus stop would open the municipality up to legal exposure over the non-ADA compliant cemetery.
At the March 6 meeting, Public Works chair Dave Hunz said there is $10,000 in the current budget for stair replacement, but he has directed the department to see if it can go toward engineering for ADA improvements.

MORE TONNAGE – The ship Beluga Enterprise left here March 7 with 10,200 tonnes, said Bill Dunn, manager of the Minto Mine. This compare with 6,600 shipped out on the first ship last fall. He said the loading went well and another ship is expected in Skagway around the end of the month. JB

Borough - Appeal submitted for borough lands

The Skagway Borough has formally submitted its appeal of a denial by the Department of Natural Resources in December for title to more state lands.
At the March 6 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Mayor Tom Cochran said the appeal was “very well done” and borough attorney Robert Blasco made a good argument.
“We’ll see where it goes... but we have to take the lead again,” Cochran said. “We have to fight tooth and nail for what is entitled to us.”
The state has encouraged borough formation by giving successful boroughs the opportunity to receive at least 10 percent of vacant, unallocated state land within its borders, as well as $250,000 for helping with the transition.
Skagway turned down the cash during the borough hearings, but never turned down the land. When it asked the state to start the land transfer process last fall it ran into a road block: the state said the nearly 8,000 acres it gave the former City of Skagway was “applied to the borough’s entitlement.”
The new borough is appealing. In an eight page document submitted to DNR Commissioner Tom Irwin on Feb. 28, Blasco argued that the state’s decision was based on a wrong interpretation of state statutes.
He quoted statute AS 29.65.040 which states that land entitlements are “property rights that vest on the date of incorporation of the municipality,” which in Skagway’s case would be June 20, 2007. He said the statute does not say anything about land obtained by a previously existing entity.
“DNR cannot deny the Municipality of Skagway its ‘vested’ land entitlement as a borough in the absence of any statute that takes away that ‘vested’ right,” Blasco wrote. “The choice, discretion and prerogative, to grant vested land entitlements to newly created municipalities lies solely with the legislature, not DNR.”
He said the legislature never addressed the issue of whether a dissolved city like Skagway, which became a borough, should have previous entitlements count toward the 10 percent granted with borough formation. He said DNR’s decision cited two flawed 1993 memorandums by an assistant attorney general. One of those denied lands to the new Yakutat Borough.
“The assistant attorney general invented her conclusion that ‘determination of the new entitlement of the City and Borough of Yakutat should take account of conveyances made to the predecessor.’ “ Blasco wrote. “The conclusion is contrary to the actual language of AS 29.65.”
The document concluded by asking the state to reverse it decision and “proceed with the expedited certification of the Municipality of Skagway’s borough land entitlement.”

Borough - Petitions: Cancel or vote on bus barn

As bid advertisements were running in local and regional newspapers for a new municipal bus barn for the SMART fleet, a petition was circulated asking the borough to cancel the project.
The petition, with more than 100 signatures, said the location behind the police department was not a good use of waterfront uplands. It suggested the bus barn “would be to the detriment of the Municipalities (sic) economic future and well being.”
It was submitted prior to the assembly meeting.
Mayor Cochran said it was good to hear from so many citizens on the issue, but that organizers should go through the referendum process.
On Monday of this week, 10 of the signers submitted a new petition requesting a referendum on the issue at the next general election. The new petition and language was being reviewed by municipal staff to see if it meets all of the qualifications for a referendum.
Proposals for the bus barn are due March 21. It is slated to be funded in part from a $344,000 federal transit grant approved back in 2003. The bus barn’s proposed location has moved several times. The assembly, over some objections, decided last summer to proceed with the project on a strip of vacant land between 1st Ave. and the railroad tracks, between the police department and the Princess Tours office.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Coach Lara Labesky instructs her team during time out in the championship game of the 2A Tourney. See story in Features below.

Tom Miller, Ketchikan Daily News

• DDF FEATURE: First Anchorage, then on to Las Vegas- Skagway DDFers spread their wings; UAS, SHS host Nuclear Awareness Conference in April

• SPORTS & REC: Skagway hoop teams finish third at region tourney

• TOURISM NEWS: Top excursion award for WP&YR

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